Learning to teach generalist primary teachers about Meaningful PE – Maura Coulter, Richard Bowles & Tony Sweeney

The following guest blog is from our series highlighting chapters from our recently published book Meaningful Physical Education: An Approach for Teaching and Learning.

In this chapter we looked at our experience of delivering our physical education modules using the Meaningful Physical Education (MPE) approach during one semester. Although we teach in three separate universities in Ireland, our students were all generalist primary (elementary) student teachers. Previous experience gained by Maura and Richard in using MPE meant there was a certain confidence in our understanding of the features of meaningful physical education (the ‘what’) (Beni, Fletcher and Ní Chróinín, 2017), so the focus of this project for the three of us was to explore how to improve our practice as teacher educators by utilising the pedagogical principles of MPE (the ‘how’) further (Ní Chróinín, Fletcher and O’Sullivan, 2018).

Our collaboration involved completing fortnightly reflections on our teaching, and sending them to one another as critical friends, where we would question and comment on one another’s reflections (Schuck & Russell 2005). Our goal was to shape and support our teaching about teaching for meaningful experiences in physical education through this reflective practice. In the chapter, we outlined how we used case studies and readings on the LAMPE website to scaffold discussion and encourage student engagement with academic literature. We also shared how we explored a range of curricular content utilising the MPE approach during the semester.

Our initial objective was to introduce the features of meaningful physical education (Beni, Fletcher, and Ní Chróinín, 2017) in the modules we were teaching and establish how best we could frame learning activities for student teachers within our individual contexts. The next objective was to examine our pedagogies of teacher education to develop a fuller understanding of the pedagogical principles of MPE to foster student engagement. Discussions with PSTs at the end of each lecture allowed us to reflect on meaningfulness from their perspectives. The sharing of reflections, feedback, and dialogue amongst the three of us impacted positively on the short-term planning of subsequent lessons we taught.

We started to include the pedagogical principles of MPE into our teaching and continued to reflect and check-in to establish if PSTs not only understood the ‘what’ but also the ‘how’ of meaningful physical education. Therefore, while engaging with the pedagogical principles of MPE as teacher educators, we were also engaging with MPE as an approach for future teachers at the same time. 

The student response to the modelling of pedagogies was positive and insightful, and we felt that how we articulated the reasons for our pedagogical decisions regarding MPE encouraged the students to critically evaluate such choices in their own future practice as teachers. While the ‘checking in’ time was universally considered valuable, the need to cover module content in our limited PE contact hours (Tsangaridou & Kyriakides, 2018) was a significant challenge for us. Exploring MPE collaboratively provided us with a lens through which to interrogate our practice as we engaged in learning with our students. In our future practice, we will continue to connect the ‘what’ (content knowledge) with the ‘how’ (pedagogical knowledge) of meaningful physical education.

Maura Coulter is based in the Institute of Education at Dublin City University, Ireland, and teaches at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Richard Bowles works in the Department of Arts Education & Physical Education at Mary Immaculate College, Ireland, and teaches physical education in undergraduate and postgraduate primary/elementary teacher education programs.

Tony Sweeney is a lecturer with the Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education at Maynooth University, Ireland and teaches PE at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels at Maynooth University.


Beni, S., Fletcher, T. & Ní Chróinín, D. (2018). Using features of meaningful experiences to guide primary physical education practice. European Physical Education Review, 25, 599-615.

Ní Chróinín, D., Fletcher, T. & O’Sullivan, M. (2018) Pedagogical principles of learning to teach meaningful physical education, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 23:2, 117-133.

Schuck, S. & Russell, T. (2005). Self-Study, Critical Friendship, and the Complexities of Teacher Education. Studying Teacher Education, 1, 107-121.

Tsangaridou, N. & Kyriakides, L. (2018). Pre-service primary physical education. In G. Griggs & K. Petrie, (Eds.) Handbook of Primary Physical Education. Routledge

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